Drive My Car Review

Some of the best films of any given year are foreign films, and 2021 might be the best year for them in a while. Films like A Hero by Asghar Farhadi, Flee by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, The Worst Person in the World by Joachim Trier, The Hand of God by Paolo Sorrentino, and Titane by Julia Ducournau will dominate year-end lists. Drive My Car from director Ryusuke Hamaguchi might be the best of the year, though.

Drive My Car is the story of a stage actor turned director played by Hidetoshi Nishijima. He’s happily married to a TV actress (Reika Kirishima) until a tragedy happens to her. This makes the main character decide to leave his home and move to Hiroshima, where he starts a new production of an Anton Chekhov play. Due to the distance from his new accommodations, the producers of the play assign him a driver (Toko Miura) to take him to and from the studio where the production takes place. This turns out to be a good choice for him to let her drive his car.

Drive My Car has multiple layers to it that keep the film interesting all the way through its three-hour run time. While casting the play, the main character comes across a man (Masaki Okada) auditioning for a role who has a connection to his wife. Another actress in the production is deaf and she has a secret she’s keeping from the director as well. The best story of them all, besides the story of the main character, is the driver’s story. She weaves an intense disturbing tale to her passenger.

The driving sequences in the film are where all the real drama happens. There is a scene later in the film where the main character, the director of the play, and the actor have a heart to heart and come to find out the actor had a history with the director’s wife. This sequence hits hard and goes to determine the real soul of the characters and the film as a whole. The relationship between these two is something the viewers have to figure out for themselves. Without it being violent or angry, they have issues with one another. The script gets that across very nicely.

The lead character drives a Saab 900 and he is very protective of it. He even gets nervous when his wife has to drive it. When he is assigned a driver, he isn’t happy. When he finds out how young she is, he definitely doesn’t want her to drive him around until he gets to know her and her story which she tells him while being his chauffeur. All the good stuff at the core of this film happens while one character or another is driving that candy red Saab 900.

Hamaguchi has a way with the camera and its placement in the film. He puts it in places that make for very good scenes. Of course, the car driving scenes are done very well, as well as tracking shots that show the car driving and vistas around Japan, such as lakes, mountains, or cityscapes. He shows various structures within the city of Hiroshima as well. The camera work is exquisitely done.

A couple of quibbles I have with the film are the length which is three hours long and the way the filmmakers decided to show the subtitles. At various points in the film, the subtitles are hard to read. If the scenes have a source of light, the subtitles can’t be read of those sequences of parts of the screen that shows that light or brightness.

Drive My Car is a wonderful film with a multilayered storyline. The longer the film goes, another layer of this story is uncovered. The acting by all is terrific, but the script they are given is one of the real stars of the film. The other star is the director himself, Hamaguchi. The way he handles the camera in the film is exquisite. The placement throughout the film is perfect. The camerawork and cinematography are almost like a character in and of itself. This is one of the best films of the year, not just foreign films.

5 stars

Dan Skip Allen

Sean Boelman

Founder/EIC disappointment media

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